"I will die for these animals, I will die for these animals, I will die for these animals."
- Timothy Treadwell
At a glance:
Werner Herzog’s familiarity with obsession aids his documentary of bear activist Timothy Treadwell, who, after 13 summers camping among grizzlies, was killed by bears
Our review (with spoilers):
Werner Herzog’s documentary profiles Timothy Treadwell, a self-styled ‘gentle warrior’ who spent 13 summers studying grizzly bears in the Alaskan wilderness. An actor by trade, Treadwell’s career had reached rock bottom when he was rejected for a role in Cheers; he subsequently overdosed on cocaine and heroin. He found a religious rebirth in studying, photographing, and ‘protecting’ the bears in the areas where he camped. Born on Long Island, New York as Timothy Baxter, Treadwell reinvented himself as a British orphan from a small outback town in Australia. In videotapes he made while on-site, he portrayed himself as a lone warrior, although in fact at least 4 of those 13 summers he was accompanied by one or more (mostly off-camera) female companions. Herzog picked from this extensive video library to present some amazing up-close footage of bears and foxes; he also shows much of Treadwell’s obsessive, bipolar personality in segments that were essentially personal video diaries that should never have been aired to a wider audience. Treadwell bares his troubled soul. No one can doubt his love of the bears (and his profound, misguided need to be loved by them), but in his zest for love, he invaded the bears territory and ultimately did not show them enough respect. His goals were conflicting; he longed to portray bears as being less dangerous as believed and worthy of protection, and yet he constantly portrayed himself as a man who was purposely camping in dangerous, life-threatening situations. Ultimately, after an amazing run of luck, Treadwell stayed too long into that final, fateful season. The usual bears that he knew (and that knew him) had begun hibernation, and strange, older, hungrier, and more desperate bears inhabited the region. One or more of these bears broke into Treadwell’s tent and killed him and his girlfriend.
Herzog is no stranger to obsession; he also has plunged headfirst into film projects (for example, Fitzcarraldo) at the expense of all other priorities. He has picked his subject well; Treadwell is an intriguing character, and the wildlife footage is captivating at times.
Other reviewers said:
"Part punk wildlife doc, part diary of a twisted soul, part cautionary tale, Grizzly Man is a complex, unique and engrossing journey into the murky recesses of an unhinged mind."
- Dan Jolin (Empire Magazine)
"Treadwell, a failed TV actor, is presented as someone desperate to give and receive love. That he went to such extremes is tragic, but also, in Herzog's sympathetic eyes, deeply human."
- Joshua Rothkopf (Time Out New York)